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Lecture notes on Electromagnetic Distance Measurement

1. Errors, checking and calibration


Although modern EDM equipment is exceptionally well constructed, the effects of age and
general wear and tear may alter its performance. It is essential therefore that all field equipment
should be regularly checked and calibrated. Checking and calibration are two quite separate
activities.
Checking is concerned with verifying that the instrument is performing within acceptable
tolerances.
Calibration is the process of estimating the parameters that need to be applied to correct actual
measurements to their true values.
A feature of calibration is that it should be traceable to superior, usually national, standards.
From the point of view of calibration, these errors have been classified as follows:
Zero error (independent of distance)
Zero error arises from changes in the instrument/reflector constant due to ageing of the
instrument or as a result of repairs. The built-in correction for instrument/reflector constants is
usually correct to 1 or 2 mm but may change with different reflectors and so should be assessed
for a particular instrument/reflector combination. A variety of other matters may affect the value
of the constant and these matters may vary from instrument to instrument. Some instruments
have constants which are signal strength dependent, while others are voltage dependent. The
signal strength may be affected by the accuracy of the pointing or by prevailing atmospheric
conditions. It is very important, therefore, that periodical calibration is carried out.
A simple procedure can be adopted to obtain the zero error for a specific instrument/reflector
combination. Consider three points A, B, C set out in a straight line such that AB = 10 m, BC =
20 m and AC = 30 m.
Assume a zero error of +0.3 m exists in the instrument; the measured lengths will then be 10.3,
20.3 and 30.3. Now:
AB + BC = AC

Simple calibration baseline

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Notes by Sichangi A.
Lecture notes on Electromagnetic Distance Measurement

But the measurements 10.3 + 20.3 30.3


The error may be found from 10.3 + 20.3 30.3 = +0.3
Now as
Correction = Error

Cyclic error (varies with distance)


As already shown, the measurement of the phase difference between the transmitted and received
waves enables the fractional part of the wavelength to be determined. Thus, errors in the
measurement of phase difference will produce errors in the measured distance. Phase errors are
cyclic and not proportional to the distance measured and may be non-instrumental and/or
instrumental.
The non-instrumental cause of phase error is spurious signals from reflective objects illuminated
by the beam. Normally the signal returned by the reflector will be sufficiently strong to ensure
complete dominance over spurious reflections. However, care should be exercised when using
vehicle reflectors or reflective material designed for clothing for short-range work.
The main cause of phase error is instrumental and derives from two possible sources. In the first
instance, if the phase detector were to deviate from linearity around a particular phase value, the
resulting error would repeat each time the distance resulted in that phase. Excluding gross
malfunctioning, the phase readout is reliably accurate, so maximum errors from this source
should not exceed 2 or 3 mm.
The more significant source of phase error arises from electrical cross-talk, or spurious coupling,
between the transmit and receive channels. This produces an error which varies sinusoidally with
distance and is inversely proportional to the signal strength.
Cyclic errors in phase measurement can be determined by observing to a series of positions
distributed over a half wavelength. A bar or rail accurately divided into 10-cm intervals over a
distance of 10 m would cover the requirements of most short-range instruments. A micrometer
on the bar capable of very accurate displacements of the reflector of +0.1 mm over 20 cm would
enable any part of the error curve to be more closely examined.
The error curve plotted as a function of the distance should be done for strong and weakest signal
conditions and may then be used to apply corrections to the measured distance. For the majority
of short-range instruments the maximum error will not exceed a few millimetres.

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Notes by Sichangi A.
Lecture notes on Electromagnetic Distance Measurement

Most short-range EDM instruments have values for /2 equal to 10 m. A simple arrangement for
the detection of cyclic error which has proved satisfactory is to lay a steel band under standard
tension on a horizontal surface. The reflector is placed at the start of a 10-m section and the
distance from instrument to reflector obtained. The reflector is displaced precisely 100 mm and
the distance is re-measured. The difference between the first and second measurement should be
100 mm; if not, the error is plotted at the 0.100 m value of the graph. The procedure is repeated
every 100 mm throughout the 10-m section and an error curve produced. If, in the field, a
distance of 836.545 m is measured, the cyclic error correction is abstracted from point 6.545 m
on the error curve.
Scale error (proportional to distance)
Scale errors in EDM instruments are largely due to the fact that the oscillator is temperature
dependent. The quartz crystal oscillator ensures the frequency ( f ) remains stable to within 5
ppm over an operational temperature range of 20C to 50C. The modulation frequency can,
however, vary from its nominal value due to incorrect factory setting, ageing of the crystal and
lack of temperature stabilization. Most modern short-range instruments have temperature-
compensated crystal oscillators which have been shown to perform well. However, warm-up
effects have been shown to vary from 1 to 5 ppm during the first hour of operation.
Diode errors also cause scale error, as they could result in the emitted wavelength being different
from its nominal value.
The magnitude of the resultant errors may be obtained by field or laboratory methods.
The laboratory method involves comparing the actual modulation frequency of the instrument
with a reference frequency. The correction for frequency is equal to

A simple field test is to measure a base line whose length is known to an accuracy greater than
the measurements under test. The base line should be equal to an integral number of modulation
half wavelengths.
The base line AB should be measured from a point C in line with AB; then CBCA = AB. This
differential form of measurement will eliminate any zero error, whilst the use of an integral

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Notes by Sichangi A.
Lecture notes on Electromagnetic Distance Measurement

number of half wavelengths will minimize the effect of cyclic error. The ratio of the measured
length to the known length will provide the scale error.

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Notes by Sichangi A.